When I worked at BWI airport, my shifts often began in the early morning, before the time for fajr prayer. Throughout most of the year, I would pray tahajjud (night prayer) after I arrived at the airport at one of the empty and carpeted gates.
For the early morning fajr prayer, I would retreat to the airport meditation room, one of the few places where the ubiquitous announcements in English and Spanish, “Attention all passengers. Please do not leave any items or baggage unattended. Unattended items will be removed by security…,” were muted. I always prayed alone.
But in Ramadan, the meditation room came alive with many of the Muslims who worked throughout the airport at the Hudson News newsstands, restaurants, for the airlines, taxi and limo drivers, and for TSA. I remember one day, I stayed late working overtime, and at sunset I went to the meditation room to break my fast and pray.
A Muslim woman, who appeared to be of Ethiopian descent, was sitting on the floor eating some food. She didn’t wear hijab so I didn’t know if she was Muslim but she offered me the salams, a warm smile, and her apple. I only had a few dates, which I belatedly offered to her. Her warmth and simple but profound act of generosity still makes my eyes moist. May Allah reward her with an abundance of good. We should never belittle any act, I was still a relatively new Muslim at that time, and her kindness towards me helped strengthen me in my faith.
I loved the experience of praying fajr in the meditation room during Ramadan because the Muslims took over, not that there were really too many others there in those early hours before the airport opened. We’d rearrange the chairs and pray, both men and women, in congregation sometimes as many as ten of us. The feeling and sense of community, absent during much of the year was palpable.
Last year during Ramadan, I had to pick up a friend from BWI airport around time for breaking the fast. As I waited by the checked baggage area, Muslims who worked at the airport kept coming up to me to tell me that a group of them were gathering on the upper level by the large crab sculpture to pray and break their fast together and that I was welcome to join and share the food with them.
I saw a couple of Muslim limo drivers holding white name card signs waiting for their passengers to arrive. One of these drivers bought me some cookies and a bottle of lemonade from the newsstand to use to break my fast. Again, belatedly, I brought out my dates from my purse to offer to the drivers.
Over the years, I’ve met many Muslims working in the local DC regional airports always ready to help me find the chapel or meditation room and share their food or prayer mat with me. I didn’t always know their names and we didn’t always exchange salams or speak but God knows their names. I pray they will be rewarded for showing me the love and character of a Muslim, magnified by their generosity in the month of Ramadan.